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Free Pills in your Water

Let's talk water. But first, if you are the sort of person that freaks out at the thought of being a science experiment, you probably should not read further. On the other hand, if you take a more relaxed approach to life and recognize the thousands of small threats surrounding us, continue.

Tap water has a ton of pollutants -- or perhaps contaminants is the better word -- in it. Government policies, generally from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have greatly cleaned up water supplies. The problem is that we are constantly creating new problems -- by introducing everything from tons of pharmaceuticals to agricultural weedkillers into our water supply.

A study from the Environmental Working Group shows that the EPA is not keeping up. No surprise there - we just went through 8 years of an administration that figured we don't have to regulate the environment because the magical market fairy would do it (apparently Republican economists have totally missed the who "externality" revolution in their field).

In an analysis of more than 22 million tap water quality tests, most of which were required under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, EWG found that water suppliers across the U.S. detected 260 contaminants in water served to the public. One hundred forty-one (141) of these detected chemicals — more than half — are unregulated; public health officials have not set safety standards for these chemicals, even though millions drink them every day.

EWG's analysis also found over 90 percent compliance with enforceable health standards on the part of the nation's water utilities, showing a clear commitment to comply with safety standards once they are developed. The problem, however, is EPA's failure to establish enforceable health standards and monitoring requirements for scores of widespread tap water contaminants. Of the 260 contaminants detected in tap water from 42 states, for only 114 has EPA set enforceable health limits (called Maximum Contaminant Levels, or MCLs), and for 5 others the Agency has set non-enforceable goals called secondary standards. (EPA 2005a). The 141 remaining chemicals without health-based limits contaminate water served to 195,257,000 people in 22,614 communities in 42 states.

Until the government catches up and sets standards for the other contaminents, what can you do? The Atlantic's "Pipe Dreams" answered that question... sorta. Let's start with this: don't turn to bottled water! Bottled water is often no different, but comes with all the problems of trucking heavy plastic bottles (water is actually kinda heavy) across the country so you can over pay by a factor of 100 compared to your friendly muni water supply.

Water filters - from the Brita in my fridge to the reverse osmosis contraption at my parents' house, miss some of the pharmaceuticals. Sadly, the solution appears to be, don't dwell on which pharmaceuticals you are ingesting with your water, hope they are in such small doses that they are harmless, or perhaps even that you will get superhero powers from them. Maybe it will give you a big enough brain to comprehend why Americans have to take so many damn pills.

Apparently, there is a solution - distillation. But that sounds more complex than anything I want to get involved with.

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A modest proposal

Drink beer!